Locals help in relief effort

The Red Cross estimates the tsunami has claimed more than 155,000 lives.

Lacey Crisp

Many Minnesotans are aiding tsunami relief efforts by donating money, but Tai Mendenhall is doing more. He will travel to Sri Lanka later this week to help victims cope with their losses.

“I feel that I have to go,” Mendenhall said. “I can’t just sit in a classroom and try to help these people.”

Mendenhall, a department of family medicine and community health professor and behavioral health clinician, said he doesn’t know what to expect, but he is excited to start helping.

According to the American Red Cross, the tsunami has claimed more than 155,000 lives, and the number is still increasing. The highest death tolls are in Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia and Thailand.

Soren Jensen, Minneapolis Red Cross safety, health and marketing director, said local chapters are collecting donations for tsunami victims, but people can also donate to the national American Red Cross fund.

“We certainly are helping to coordinate donations for the tsunami victims here in Minneapolis,” Jensen said.

Mendenhall said he was asked by the Green Cross, an organization that specializes in helping out victims of mass trauma, to join the trauma teams being deployed to Sri Lanka. He said tragedy brings out the best in people.

“We saw this after 9-11, and now most people want to donate, whether it be time, money or resources,” said Mendenhall, who served as a traumatologist in New York after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. “This is the best way I can donate.”

He said he will be living in a refugee camp outside Colombo, Sri Lanka, and will be there until early February.

“I know it is going to be hard,” Mendenhall said. “These are situations that don’t have textbook answers as to what we are supposed to be doing.”

Mendenhall said he is able to leave to help because of the assistance he has received from the Medical School and his department. People are contributing by taking over his classes and covering for him so he can directly help the victims, he said.

Although he is glad to help in Sri Lanka, Mendenhall said, he worries about his safety.

“There are worries about sanitation and anti-Americanism,” Mendenhall said. “I have received several vaccinations and will always be paired up with local aid workers to ensure my safety.”

Mendenhall said he is more concerned about helping the victims than anything else.

“I’m afraid I won’t be able to help as many people as I would like, because there are so many people affected,” he said. “You feel like you want to help everyone, but it is just not possible.”

University student Vinothini Ambrose has family in Sri Lanka and said her parents are from the country.

“I was in shock when I first heard about it,” Ambrose said. “I was wondering about my family and if they survived.”

Ambrose works for Diaspora Flow, the first Sri Lankan nonprofit organization in the United States that promotes Sri Lankan culture through arts and crafts.

She said the group is helping by doing long-term rebuilding efforts and is planning to build a school or clinic in Sri Lanka.

“Our country has been in civil war for 25 years, and a lot of damage has been done,” Ambrose said. “This is the last thing they needed.”

The University’s Sri Lankan community and Diaspora Flow have been collecting money through the Internet and mail. They are hosting a benefit at 7 p.m. Sunday at Coffman Union Theater for $10 plus donations. All proceeds will go toward health-care and restoration needs in Sri Lanka.

Sharad Agarwal, a part-time student at the Carlson School of Management, said every little bit students can give helps a lot.

“If the masses donate, even in small amounts, it can help a lot of people,” he said.

Agarwal, a member of the University’s Hindu Student Society, said the group is collecting money to help victims in India.

Agarwal said the group has donation boxes around Minneapolis and will be asking for donations around campus when classes resume.